Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Soul Shouting

mid-week gospel

The right thing to do on a day like this (I'm busy!!) is to play two songs about which, unfortunately, I can't tell you much. I'm speaking of »Help Me Lift Jesus« and »Heaven Knows I Tried« as recorded by »Rev. J.T. Bell & The Soul Shouting Weeks Sisters of Mullins, S.C.« (according to the billing on the label) and released on HSE # 443, sometime in or around 1974. The label of the HSE single also states that the songs were recorded at Jadel Studios in Marion, S.C. (10 miles from Mullins); sister Nancy Hamilton is credited with the arrangements & lead vocals. Rev. Bell, contrary to the billing, has only some shouting parts on both sides, with the actual singing being done by Nancy Hamilton & the Weeks Sisters.

The Weeks Sisters appear on later HSE releases (and LP covers) as »Week Sisters« (e.g. on HSE  # 466 or on the covers of HSE LPs # 1491 and # 1513). About the latter LP (they did three in all with HSE) you'll find some information over at Just Moving On; there's also a list of the group's personnel. There's something about the Week Sisters on the Get On Down ... blogspot, and the B-side of HSE #443 (»Heaven Knows I Tried«) appears in a WFMU playlist from earlier that year. And I love that B-side! A pity only that the recording (and pressing?) quality of the HSE single is poor ... and my copy of it is in a very good general condition.

Rev. J.T. Bell & The Soul Shouting Weeks Sisters of Mullins, S.C.:
 »Help Me Lift Jesus« / »Heaven Knows I Tried« on HSE # 443 (c.1974?):

Monday, November 28, 2011

Along Comes Misery

Thanks to Ana-B for cooperation on this post!

Why is it that so many of Tina Turner's songs seem to possess such a strong auto- biographical undercurrent? Is it that I am looking for it in her songs when in case of others I wouldn't? But then, why do I seem to hit on something every time I'm looking for it?

From Jack Robinson's photosession, 1969 (look it up here)
Spring 1969. The Turners have out their first Minit 45 (# 32060), released in March. As for their career, 1969 was a good year: they were playing Vegas now and getting paid more than ever; Ike was enjoy- ing his lush life and before the end of the year they were touring with the Rolling Stones. For the Blue Thumb label, they recorded two bluesy LPs that wouldn't go far saleswise but show Ike & Tina doing something different. They re-released their A&M album River Deep, Mountain High and increasingly started to cover songs made famous by others (»With A Little Help From My Friends«, »I've Been Loving You Too Long«, »Come Together« etc.). And Tina came to develop her ill-famed X-rated stage antics (watch Tina in action over here, from the Stones documentary Gimme Shelter). Little mattered it then that in April they had their Los Angeles home burglarized, with items worth $70,000 and their car part of the booty.

On the personal level though, things had gone from bad to worse. Tina had her stomach pumped clear of 50 valiums after she had discovered that Ike had fathered a child with her friend Ann Thomas and after Ike had started to treat her ever more violently. »Yes it finally got to the point where I was ready to die. ... I felt like I could not take any more. ... And that's when I started to hate Ike Turner. ... [W]ith the women, and the beatings, I had started losing that love for Ike. And now, after the pills and the hospital, I was starting to hate him« said Tina in her autobiography (I, Tina, p. 144 + 148).

From Jack Robinson's photosession, 1969
Now, Minit # 32060 was out in March. It features a com- bination of two songs, »I'm Gonna Do All I Can (To Do Right By My Man)« on the A-side and »You've Got Too Many Ties That Bind« on the B-side. And these two songs being put together on one 45 does raise some questions.

The first tune, »I'm Gonna Do All I Can (To Do Right By My Man)«, was penned by country musician and producer Wayne Carson. It's one of those husband & wife songs, crammed with that kitschy marital and ultimately depressing devoteness lyrics so typical of the C&W scene ... he's the only real thing that ever happened to me ...  He can make me be good, he can make me change my ways, do the things a good woman should and I'm gonna make him happy each and every day. I'm gonna do all I can to do right by my man, to be the kind of woman he wants me to be ... Ike couldn't have cared less. The song made it to #98 pop in May '69.

Let's turn to the B-side, Johnny Northern's & Jimmy Bailey's »You've Got Too Many Ties That Bind«. As to Tina's performance, this B-side is much stronger than the A-side. And what a contrast! Listen to Tina singing ... Every time in my life when things begin to glow, there comes a change and back downhill I go ... Every time when happiness comes my way, along comes misery and destroyed my whole day ... I once was blind but now I can see, I can see, oh yes I can see - that there's too many ties that binds (!) ... I cross my heart, hope to die, each time I think about my life, I wanna cry. That's why I'm singin' there's too many ties that bind. Too many, too many ties ... Phew! Ike couldn't have cared less. But how must Tina have been feeling when singing these lines? And how to reconcile the two songs?

From J. Robinson's photosession, 1969
However, things are a little more complicated still. The labels of Minit # 32060 on both sides give Ike Turner and Willie Mitchell the production credits. It is unknown at what time »I'm Gonna Do All I Can« was recorded. But it is known that the B-Side, »Too Many Ties That Bind«, was recorded years earlier and actually released for the first time in 1964 on Sonja # 5000. On the Sonja 45, only Ike Turner is credited and the song title appears as »Too Many Ties That Bind«. Ana-B (from The Singing Bones blogspot) told me that what you hear on Sonja # 5000 is not just the same song, but the exact same recording we find on the Minit B-side. So, essentially, the newer side, »I'm Gonna Do All I Can«, was in 1969 pressed with the older recording. Moreover, this also explains the curious fact why the song on the Minit (re-)release was re-titled »You've Got Too Many Ties That Bind« even though the lyrics of the song do not feature the words »you've got«. Ana-B pointed out that Sonja # 5000 was probably an early Willie Mitchell production and that he got the belated credit on the Minit single. She also hinted me at John Ridley's Page where you'll find a review of Sonja # 5000 (the gist of it is quoted below in the comment section).

So what are we making of the Minit single? Musically, we have Tina singing two heartrending ballads here. Conceptually, we have a plea of marital thankfulness and an outcry of utter desperation, an explosive mix. Are they expressing just the same, after all? If looking at Tina's troubled life in and around 1969 and how she dealt with it this doesn't seem farfetched. But the B-side was recorded years before, and maybe also the A-side was not really a recent recording. So why put out both songs in 1969 (apart from the convenient fact of recycling, in part, older material)? I have no obvious answer to this. In fact, I am musing about this without truly knowing whether Tina's private life had any part in why these tunes were released in 1969. On the other hand, can you listen to these songs and be convinced, in earnest, that her private life had nothing to do with it? They just so closely reflect, in all their contrasting message, Tina's state of mind in 1969. And what she told in her auto- biography about the events in late 1968 and early '69 just so closely mirrors the lyrics of the B-side ... but she kept on holding up the facade and was stuck with Ike (that's where the A-side comes in) ...

For the record: »I'm Gonna Do All I Can (To Do Right By My Man)« never appeared on an album at the time (the Turner's only Minit LP being Live In Person). The song was first released in the '80s on LP and was afterwards included in CD packages of the Minit r&b output (one recently re-issued). »You've Got Too Many Ties That Bind« appears on a 1991 Japanese CD (TOCP-6597) which has all the Minit sides and is actually entitled You've Got Too Many Ties That Bind. 

Ike & Tina Turner: »I'm Gonna Do All I Can (To Do Right By My Man)« / »You've Got Too Many Ties That Bind«
on Minit # 32060 (1969):

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Down & Out

After Lonnie Mack's legendary instrumental »Memphis« skyrocketed the r&b and pop charts in summer 1963, Cincinnati's Fraternity Re- cords put together an album which eventually was released (mono only) in October. This LP (Fraternity # F -1014) features all the better known tunes associated with Mack's influential guitar style (»Memphis«, »Wham!«, »Down In The Dumps«, »Suzie-Q«) and some more songs besides.

Lonnie Mack has the distinction to call a very decent Wikipedia article his own, actually much better, more complete and more meticously documented than most other entries on '60 r&b music; over on WangDangDula you also find an exhaustive discography. On the back cover of his LP, Lonnie is credited, by Cincinnati Post's Dale Stevens, with a »lowdown, dirty and twangy« guitar style. But Stevens also portrays him as a »country boy, and I mean back country«. This image stuck with Mack for a long time, and the Output critic John Morthland wrote in 1984: »It was the era of satin pants and histrionic stage shows, and all the superior chops in the world couldn't hide the fact that chubby, country Mack probably had more in common with Kentucky truck drivers than he did with the new rock audience« (quoted from Wikipedia). If you like to read a more recent assessment of Lonnie's music and career, have a look at Greg Schaber's article »Mule Train«, published in the October 2000 issue of Cincinnati Magazine.

The Charmaines (publicity shot from 1966)
There are two tracks on Lonnie's Fraternity LP which stand somewhat apart from the rest. The first of these is »Baby, What's Wrong«, an uptempo adaption of a Jimmy Reed song. This tune (a dynamic feet mover in and by itself) earned its place on this blog by the simple fact that it features The Charmaines prominently as backing vocal group. The Charmaines from Cincinnati were a female trio of 18 year-olds when they won a local contest in 1960 and then were given a contract by Fraternity. More details on their work with Lonnie Mack you'll find in the liner notes to Ace CD # 1135. However, their appearance in »Baby, What's Wrong« remained uncredited on Lonnie's Fraternity LP. Even when the song was released as a 45 in November '63 (Fraternity # 918, shortly entering the pop charts at # 93) it went into the market as a Lonnie Mack release without any mention whatsoever of The Charmaines. Ah-Oom-Ba!

The second song of a somewhat different flavor on Lonnie's LP is the bluesy instru- mental »Down And Out«. Here we have Lonnie Mack & his band (Marv Lieberman, Ron Grayson, Wayne Bullock, Truman Fields and Irv Russotto) moving a long way from their country roots. And they're really into it:

Lonnie Mack (*feat. The Charmaines): *»Baby, What's Wrong« / »Down And Out«
from the Fraternity LP # F-1014 (The Wham Of That Memphis Man!, 1963)

(Both clips from Billboard, November 9, 1963)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday's Twosome # 2+3

Every Jill Has Her Jack ...

Speaking so much of The Staples lately and pondering which duets to chose for today's post left me, really, no choice but to take the marvelous Stax 2-LP album »Boy Meets Girl« from the shelf. In the second half of the '60s, mixed duets were high on the agenda of record producers. Motown's Marvin Gaye was paired up with three female artists, and Stax climbed the charts with Otis & Carla. After Otis's tragic death, Stax joined Judy Clay and William Bell (while Atlantic had Judy out together with Billy Vera). But in 1969, Stax produced what is, arguably, the ultimate duet experience on vinyl, viz. the above-mentioned double album »Boy Meets Girl«.

We have 22 songs here and 7 artists, 4 male and 3 female. One song, the opener of the first LP, is sung by all, the remaining 21 are mixed duets. We have 10 different combinations, one of these 4 times, two of them 3 times, four of them 2 times and three duets just once. Two female artists (Mavis & Carla) are present in 10 duets, one (Cleotha) in only 1, whereas among the males we find the first (William Bell) doing 9 duets, the second (Eddie Floyd) 6 duets, the third (Johnnie Taylor) 4 duets and the fourth (Pervis Staples) 2 duets. Only one of the male artists (Pervis) has only one female duet partner (Carla), while Cleotha has but one song and thus is easy to calculate. Mavis and Carla are present with the same number of duets (10), but Carla has one more partner (Pervis) while Mavis has more duets than Carla with the same partner (William Bell). Eddie Floyd is the only one among the male artists to sing with all three female artists. I guess some mathematically minded and mechan- ically gifted geek could construct a nice Rubik's Cube from that. I, who am neither so minded nor gifted, have to do with the music.

Stax STS 2-2024 front cover
Robert Christgau wrote a critical appreciation of this album (and by so doing also spoke about the role of duets in late '60s black music in general), read it here (a review orig. publ. in the NYT, June 22, 1969). I do not agree with everything he says, but he's certainly right in assuming that Stax was looking for a new duet to repeat the success of the Otis & Carla formula: »Somewhere among the permutations there's just gotta be another Otis & Carla.« He then concludes that there wasn't. A look at the chart success and the sales figures for this album seem to confirm Christgau's view: The album, released in July '69, stayed for some weeks in the lower 40s of the 50 Top r&b LPs charts; of course, being a two-record package it was a costly item and I don't know whether Stax possibly sold it at the price of one LP. However, five singles were released from this album and none did chart.

I personally find that this LPs offer many a remarkable song. And there is the additional advantage that you can hear many different voices in different combinations, making the two LPs sort of a vocal lab. Below, you can hear Mavis Staples & Johnnie Taylor with »That's The Way Love Is« (never released on 45). Mavis has just one duet with Johnnie on this album and I somehow feel that they should have done more. And their voices are mixed not only much up-front (in contrast to several other pieces on this album) but also into different channels. Second duet is Cleotha Staples & Eddie Floyd with »It's Too Late«. I have to admit that this tune is not up my alley, nor is the arrangement. But, hey, there are so few recordings of Cleotha singing a prominent part so I just thought I'd owe her that for all what she did with the Staple Singers. But it's not only that: she really got a beautiful, almost lyrical voice. You kind of feel, though, that she's not used to sing »on her own«, as it were, and she seems to hold back a lot, shyly, giving her vocal performance too little force and ... confidence? behind it (especially if contrasted with Eddie's professional and self secure performance). And she's more at home in the higher registers, but still. Was I being unjust? Listen for yourself:

Mavis Staples & Johnnie Taylor: »That's The Way Love Is« (from STS 2-2024A, 1969) /
Cleotha Staples & Eddie Floyd: »It's Too Late« (from STS 2-2024B, 1969):

This Stax 2-LP album was never re-issued on CD in its original form. Several songs are contained on a 2009 compilation entitled »Boy Meets Girl: Classic Soul Duets«. Mavis & Johnnie's duet »That's The Way Love Is« is added as bonus track on the 1993 CD re-issue of Mavis Staples's first two Stax albums »Only For The Lonely« (CD # STA 88012).
     On a CD review page, I found the following quote from Mavis Staples:
»Man, that was a looong time ago«, Mavis laughed. »'Boy Meets Girl' was an album compiled of all of the female and the male Stax people. I don't recall much of it, but I do remember singing with William Bell, because they played the song we did, 'Strung Out', quite a bit on the radio.«
* * * 
Tracklist of the original 2-LP album (songs marked with (*)asterisks were released as Stax 45s at the time):

LP 1 (STS 2-2024A)
A1 Staples, Carla Thomas, William Bell, Eddie Floyd: Soul-A-Lujah  (*)
A2 Mavis Staples & William Bell: I Ain't Particular 
A3 Carla Thomas & Johnnie Taylor: Just Keep On Loving Me 
A4 Mavis Staples & Eddie Floyd: Ain't That Good 
A5 Carla Thomas & William Bell: I Can't Stop 
A6 Mavis Staples & William Bell: I Thank You 
B1 Mavis Staples & William Bell: Love's Sweet Sensation 
B2 Carla Thomas & William Bell: I Need You Woman 
B3 Mavis Staples & Eddie Floyd: Never, Never Let You Go 
B4 Mavis Staples & William Bell: Hold On This Time 
B5 Mavis Staples & Johnnie Taylor: That's The Way Love Is 

LP 2 (STS 2-2024B)
A1 Carla Thomas & Eddie Floyd: It's Our Time 
A2 Carla Thomas & Pervis Staples: It's Unbelievable (How You Control My Soul) 
A3 Mavis Staples & Eddie Floyd: Piece Of My Heart 
A4 Mavis Staples & William Bell: Leave The Girl Alone 
A5 Carla Thomas & Pervis Staples: I'm Trying 
A6 Carla Thomas & Eddie Floyd: Don't Make Me A Storyteller 
B1 Mavis Staples & William Bell: Strung Out 
B2 Carla Thomas & Johnnie Taylor: My Life 
B3 Cleotha Staples & Eddie Floyd: It's Too Late 
B4 Carla Thomas & Johnnie Taylor: I've Just Been Feeling Bad 
B5 Carla Thomas & William Bell: All I Have To Do Is Dream 

POSTSCRIPT 26th February 2013

Today, I received the following sad notice:
Cleotha »Cleedi« Staples has passed away at the age of 78 in her Chicago home on the morning of February 21, 2013. God rest her soul.

Monday, November 21, 2011

It's the People in It ...

Come on, let's hype the Staples for another day! (Not that they needed it, though) Just a funky message song for today, considering our lousy times and all. This comes from their best Stax LP (that's what I think, anyway), released in March 1971. Those among you who find the machine-gunned intro somewhat silly or down- right cruddy, wait for the song to take off! After all, it's Mavis administering the ear drops to you here. And that says something.

The Staple Singers: »This Is A Perfect World« from the Stax LP # STS-2034 (1971):

Sunday, November 20, 2011

OT, then NT

The third single of the Gerald Sisters is a strange record: two more or less identical songs, with different lyrics: first OT, then NT. The A-side, »Holy Ground«, tells the story of Moses facing God on Mount Sinai (or rather vice versa), the B-side, »Who Jesus Is«, is a personal testimony of faith or, more exactly, a panegyric of the person of Jesus; the latter song is credited to Hoyt Sullivan (producer & owner of HSE Records) and Rev. Hassie Gerald (father of the four Gerald Sisters, playing piano / keyboard in most of their recordings).

For the record: The Gerald Sisters of Mullins, South Carolina, recorded several 45s and four LPs for HSE Records, then switched to Malaco. I believe Betty Gerald did the lead singing, but I'm not sure. HSE # 435 was probably recorded and released in 1975, yet this also is not exactly known. In and around their hometown, the Gerald Sisters are still active. In general, information about the Gerald Sisters (and the label HSE) is scarce. Happy Sunday all!

The Gerald Sisters: »Holy Ground« / »Who Jesus Is« on HSE # 435 (1975?):

Friday, November 18, 2011

Chic to Dig

Tonight, I have a personal confession to make. You know, the very first LP I bought with my own (sort of) money was Boney M's Nightflight to Venus. It was fresh out of the press, I was about ten years old then and I loved it; still do, somehow. Well, the second LP I got was an anthology of Chicago Blues, actually a 2-LP album. And these discs I played until they were positively worn out. One of the songs on this album was Willie Mabon's »I'm The Fixer«. Not really a song for the ears of a 10-year old. But I didn't get the message then anyway and was just carried away by the beat.

The song starts very abruptly with Willie kick- ing it off with »Ba-by! ...«. This had, for me, much the same effect as Tina Turner's outcry at the beginning of »A Fool In Love« had on the soul of Peter Guralnick*, that is, ushering a new sound into my world with a bang.
(*I remember with a degree of certainty it was Peter Guralnick who wrote somewhere about this experience of his ... can't find the passage right now.)

So on my side there is a lot of autobiography in that song. For the record: »I'm The Fixer« was released as B-Side on USA # 741 in late June 1963, and Billboard listed it as a new release in the July 6 issue. A-side is »Too Hot To Handle«. According to the most detailed Willie Mabon discography on the net, »I'm The Fixer« was recorded in Chicago on May 23, 1963, »Too Hot To Handle« on February 7; information about the musicians at the session you'll find on the discography page indicated before. The A-side, Eddie Noack's »Too Hot To Handle«, was originally a pure country bopper and some country flavor still pervades Willie Mabon's version. (By the way, another nice example of how intertwined the realms of Blues, r&b and c&w really were.)

Willie Mabon: »I'm The Fixer« / »Too Hot To Handle« on USA # 741 (1963):

* * *
I almost forgot: In case you're curious where I took the inspiration for the title of today's post, read this passage about the »soul craze« as it appeared in the Dec- ember 1961 issue of Ebony magazine (page 112).
Wow, I was way ahead of this when I was about ten: I knew Willie Mabon but I had never heard of Lasagne or foie gras ... uh, seems it was a sign of things to come ... well, not quite, I came to know (and love) lasagne in the meantime as well.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

If He Can Preach It, We Can Sing It

... that's what Mavis Staples said on stage at Seattle's Jazz Alley on March 6, 2010, and it's a quote from her father. Mavis spoke about the Staples meeting Martin Luther King in Montgomery, Al., for the first time and, in particular, about their song »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« More to the point, she quotes her father Roebuck having said to them after the meeting: »Listen, y'all! I like this man's message! ... And I think that if he can preach it, we can sing it.« Listen here what Mavis had to say ... I took it from the concert video posted over at Vimeo, and I very much thank the lady who shared it with us all! Thank you!

Mavis Staples Talks (March 6, 2010, Seattle):

You may also watch the full video here:

Now, Mavis is saying that her father penned the song »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« in 1960. Others have said (I don't know on what authority) that Roebuck was inspired to write the song when watching TV coverage of the forced integration of Arkansas's Central High School in Little Rock, back in 1957. I don't know whether this is correct or at what time the Staples first performed the song (they often played it at meet- ings when MLK was about to speak as he liked the tune so much ... Mavis explicitly refers to this in the above video). However, they first recorded it, according to Hayes-Laughton' Gospel Discography and for all we know, in spring 1966.

The Staples (Ebony, Sept. 1965)
(on stage at Philadelphia's Uptown)

Now, there's a rub here. The song was released first, it seems, in late 1965 or (more probable) in early 1966 on Epic # 9880. (The following nos. of Epic 45s, 9881 ff., were all released in January '66.) The several discographies for Epic Records differ as to the time of release and they also differ as to which song was the A-side. Unfortunately, I do not know this 45 version of the song (there is a photo of sleeve and label here, but no music ...). What I know is the version as we have it on the Staples' 1966 Epic LP # BN 26196. This LP takes its title from this very song, viz. »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?«, and was released in May 1966. (Note: Some researchers were confounded by the fact that the 1991 Legacy CD by the name of Freedom Highway contains »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« and thus thought that the song was first released on the Staples' 1965 Epic LP # LN 24163 Freedom Highway, actually the recording of a live in-church session. Truth is, however, that the original Freedom Highway album does not include this song, while the CD by the same title features the very version of the Epic LP »Why?«, i.e. the one under discussion here.)

Ad from Billboard, May 7, 1966
Epic promoted the new album by an ad, head- lined: »The leading gospel-folk group of the college campus circuit with an album of most- requested songs!«. Billboard obligingly review- ed it one week later with the words: The family quartet is hard to top in this exceptional program of exciting and inspirational perfor- mances. Will soar in sales within the gospel field and easily spill over into the r&b field. Whether the material be sad or joyous, the group is equally brillant in its interpretations (BB, May 14, 1966).

Epic LP # BN 26196 (1966)
Listening to the LP version of »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« (you can do it below), you'll note the prelude by Roebuck Staples, serving as kind of an intro to the song. What this prelude does is setting the song's message in a specific context, and the context is openly and explicitly political, referring to the Civil Rights struggle: Those little children who can't ride the school bus because they're »of a different nationality« ... they weren't allowed to ride the bus ... and if you asked them about it they'd say: Why am I treated so bad? A song couldn't get much more of a protest song than this:

The Staple Singers: »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« from the Epic LP »Why« (1966):

The Staples did many a political song, as you all know; David Nathan in a '95 Bill- board article listed them, justly, among the »[r]ecording artists who helped provide lyrical ammunition in the struggle for civil rights« (Feb. 4, '95, page 28). However, »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« is not normally included in this category. We find no mention of it in Taylor Branch's monumental three-volume history of the Civil Rights Movement, nor is the song treated in even more relevant books like Peter Doggett's There's a Riot Going On (2007) or Dorian Lynskey's 33 Revolutions per Minute. A History of Protest Songs (2010).

Billboard, May 13, 1967
During 1966, the song steadily acquired more popularity, and in early 1967 several covers were released. Some of these (by the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, Bobby Powell and Brian Auger & Julie Driscoll) were very successful, and maybe none more so than the superb version of the Sweet Inspirations (giving them their first r&b Top 40 hit in summer '67). The Sweets »depoliticized« the song and changed the lyrics in order to achieve that: I'm all alone ... I'm gonna walk up to my baby's door, ask him why he don't love me no more ... he was wrong, said I was to blame, but I walk on in and love him just the same, though he treats me so bad ... So, obviously, we got a love song here. This is fine with me, but I cannot understand why we find the Sweet's version included on the 2006 Soul Jazz CD # 129 Soul Gospel Vol. 2 ...

In view of the success of their song, the Staple Singers in 1967 did a sensible thing (sensible, that is, in view of sales prospect): They re-released it on 45 (Epic # 10158A) in a version more appetible for the general, i.e. mainly the mainstream white market, skipping the politically charged prelude of Pops Roebuck, adding a horn section and in general giving the tune a more pop-oriented feel. They didn't change the lyrics, though. You can hear this 45-version of 1967 over at the Black Gold blogspot ... the song dented, for a week, the pop Hot 100 charts reaching # 95 at the beginning of June 1967 ... and it was, by now, more or less devoid of its original message.
* * *
Photo from the back cover of the Epic LP »Why«
By the way, the song »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« really stands out on Epic LP # 26196. The remaining nine songs are all done professionally, but are lacking variety: they follow the same arrangements, are instrumentated very similarly and (with one exception) have Roebuck as lead singer. So, being a huge fan of Mavis, there is not much of a treat for me here, and the single song featuring Mavis's lead voice is a boring ditty by the title of »Move Along Train«. All in all, I think it is fair to say that the album contains a lot of fillers, making it one of the least accomplished LPs of the Staples. To give you an idea how the nine songs apart from »Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?« sound like, I'd like to play the second song from the album, »King Of Kings«, actually the one which I like best among all the fillers. Here we go:

The Staple Singers: »King Of Kings« from the Epic LP »Why« (1966):

Monday, November 14, 2011

Drum Rollllllll ... WOW!

For the first time in months I'd like to play a song which I actually haven't got on vinyl myself (and that's a pity!) The song has been around in the net for a while (also on Youtube, see here) and was released on CD. I'm speaking of Little GiGi's »Take The Bitter With The Sweet« on Select # 731B from 1964. (The single is known with a yellow or with a blue/silver label; for a 45 rpm discography of Select, a New York label, click here and here).

Billboard, May 9, 1964
The Billboard critic (who considered »Take The Bitter With The Sweet« the A-side) was right when he attributed an »Etta James sound« to Little Gigi's voice. Who Little Gigi (or rather »GiGi«) was remained a mystery until some months ago. Then substantial information appeared over on Derek's Daily 45s blogspot saying (in the comment section and actually featuring a comment by the singer herself!) that she was managed at the time by Jean Grace and that her real name is Gloria Glenn. As of January 2011 she was fine and, it appears, still active. So, this mystery has been solved.

Another mystery remains: Who was the drummer playing on »Take The Bitter With The Sweet«? Now, folks, listen to the song below, listen to it several times if needs be, and then tell me: Do you know any r&b recording of the classic '60s that features a better, more solid, more diversified drum part? I don't know any and am open for suggestions. I've listened to that song countless times and still discover some new subtleties on the drummer's part. Listen closely, you'll find them as well, they get more obvious the more the song goes on. And taken together with Little GiGi's powerful vocal performance this tune is a song for the ages. It's perfect:

Little GiGi (feat. an unknown but brillant drummer): »Take The Bitter With The Sweet« (1964):

P.S. In case you'd like to hear how this song can be played »regularly«, that is without either a world-class drummer or a first-class powerhouse voice, listen to a recent version of it done by a Spanish r&b outfit called »The Excitements«. Click here (and, in case, buy it here). No, not bad at all! But does it bear comparison with Little GiGi and her fantastic drummer?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Elijah Funk

Camille Doughty (Banner), from Columbus, Ohio, has been singing from the age of ten, i.e. from the mid-Fifties. She grew up in the Baptist tradition and, at the age of fourteen, joined the »Inspirational Choir« of her uncle Rev. Shellie R. Doughty's Mt. Hermon Baptist Church. Not before 1972 she started performing as a soloist. She's still active.
      In 1978, her Gospel Roots LP »God's Prescriptions« was released: eight songs, four of them credited to »C.D. Banner«; the LP was produced by Ira Tucker (leading member of the Dixie Hummingbirds). Camille's voice is great but, sadly, the song material on the LP isn't quite. As for the band, I miss some creativity in the musi- cians' performance, and the arrangements are conventional throughout. To my liking there's but one track that stands out, namely her (moderately) funky version of the old staple »Elijah Rock« (most modern arrangements of this traditional are credited to Jester Hairston ... on Camille's LP he is credited as »T. Hairston« [?]). Mahalia Jackson made the song famous, many others recorded it (Albertina Walker et al.) and today you'll hear it mainly a cappella or performed by a mass choir. I haven't heard another version funkier than Camille's, listen to it below. Happy Sunday all!

Camille Doughty: »Elijah Rock« from the Gospel Roots LP # 5032 (1978):

Friday, November 11, 2011

Two Ballads for a Friday Night

She was the eternal talent: Billboard called her »young & talented« from around 1968 to 1972, and in 1973 she retired from secular music. A reborn Christian, Ella Wash- ington (Cobbs) said »Like I'm not putting down R&B, soul or whatever you want to call it, but gospel is so much more meaningful ... I'm not saying anything bad about rock, it was good to me, but it was all My Baby Left Me, Another Man's Wife and so on. It kind of lost relevance for me anyway.«

Ella Washington & John Richbourg (both photos from BB, Dec. 21, 1968)

BB Nov. 23, 1968, p. 29
From 1967 to 1972, Ella Washington's career was bound up with Sound Stage 7 and J.R. Enterprises. The latter was the production company of Nashville's WLAC DJ John Richbourg; he produced most of the Sound Stage 7 singles in the late 1960s and »discovered« Ella after she was brought to his attention by Paul Kelly. In 1968, Ella charted for the first and only time during her career with »He Called Me Baby« (which was to become her signature song). The song was a remake of the Harlan Howard tune »She Called Me Baby«, a C&W staple recorded by Patsy Cline and others. Billboard noted that Ella had »resouled« this song (April 19, '69, p. 51) and they even devoted an entire artice in the C&W section to the fact that several Howard tunes »went R&B« (April 12, '69, p. 42). As it is, Ella's »He Called Me Baby« is considered one of the great country soul records. The success of this song (# 38 r&b in early '69) prompted the release of an LP, Sound Stage 7 # SSS-15007 (August 1969).

The self-titled LP came with a funky cover, but actually offers mainly a superb panorama of deep southern soul, mostly in the ballad-vein. Billboard's critic was much taken in with Ella's »overdue debut album« and demanded »the major market treatment« (Aug. 9, 1969). This didn't happen, although it's hard to see, in retrospect, why. Sound Stage 7 tried to push the album by putting out singles even after the LP release, so that eventually nine of the 12 LP tracks were available on 45 in 1969. However, the LP went largely unnoticed at the time.

Photos from the back cover of her self-titled SS7 LP: Ella Washington at the recording studio,
to the left with Allen Orange & Bob Wilson, to the right with John Richbourg.

The mono mixes of all recordings we find on this LP were re-issued in 2008 on the Soulscape CD # SSCD 7014, together with the other SS7 recordings (some hitherto unissued) and a fine booklet by John Ridley (see his webpage here). My LP (a promo copy) has the stereo mixes, so it nicely supplements the CD. The obvious choice of what I would be posting tonight from this LP are two songs, viz. »Sit Down And Cry« (a Clyde Otis tune) and »All The Time« (a Mel Tillis tune). First, these two wonderful songs were never released as 45s. Second, and more importantly, they are just plain great soul ballads and very much define the best of what Ella was recording in the late '60s ... or rather, what any female artist was recording, really.

Ella Washington: »Sit Down And Cry« / »All The Time« from the Sound Stage 7 LP # 15007 (1969):

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NOTE. For more information on John Richbourg, read also Nelson George's thoughtful remembrance in Billboard's »The Rhythm & The Blues« column in the April 19, 1986, issue (page 27).

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Speaking of Sister Pope ...

mid-week gospel

Over at Record Connexion, a song by Sister Lucille Pope & The Pearly Gates was posted as download for November 2011, »Almighty God« (Vee-Jay, 1964). The month before, there was another song by the same ensemble, »Highway« (actually the B- side of Checker # 5004, from 1964).

As there are only a few '60s recordings by Sister Pope & The Pearly Gates, I thought I might supply another one here, viz. the A-side of Checker # 5004, »Jesus Tore My Heart To Pieces«. In contrast to »Highway«, which features Larry Blivens (uncredited) as lead singer, it's the voice of Lucille Pope on the A-side. (For completeness' sake, you can hear also »Highway« below.) I love the rhythmic complexity of both songs which is particularly evident at the beginnings.

You'll find a lot of information about Lucille Pope (and some of her later Nashboro recordings) at Red Kelly's Holy Ghost Blog: see here and here. There's also news about Lucille Pope's recent performances, together with some interesting readers' comments. ... and well, by the way, I think that »The Pearly Gates« (Revelation 21:21!) is just one of the most charming names for a gospel outfit ever!

Sister Pope & The Pearly Gates (*feat. Larry Blivens):
»Jesus Tore My Heart To Pieces« / *»Highway« on Checker # 5004 (1964):

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tuesday's Twosome # 1

In general I love duets, those of the same-gender kind and even more so those of the mixed variety. So I thought about posting duets on Tuesdays and that's what I'll start today. There'll be some classic & well-known duets, some lesser known and some, probably, not much known or remembered at all. And they'll be mostly of the mixed variety. At least, that's my idea at the moment. Let's see what comes of it.

Today, Rufus & Carla Thomas from 1964. They did several duet singles for Satellite/Stax/Atco, and Stax # 151 was their first on the Stax label, released in April '64. »That's Really Some Good«, penned by Rufus Thomas, is conventionally considered the A-side and peaked at # 90 of Cash Box's Top 100 in mid-June. A little more famous, in retrospect, has become the B-side, »Night Time Is The Right Time«. It's a very close cover of Ray Charles's (& Margie Hendricks's) immortal song, but it doesn't really come close, I think, to Charles's original. Carla's presence is way not as forceful as Margie's. Still, it is a groovy tune. What has never ceased, say: disturbing me is that we have here father and daughter singing this highly charged lovers' tune. No, not in the sense we hear it so often in the news nowadays. I mean knowing that here's father and daugh- ter singing just doesn't fit this song, or does it? (The same problem poses itself with a number of other Rufus & Carla duets!) Well, never mind, it's about night time here and I'm not dogmatic about it.

Rufus & Carla [Thomas]: »Night Time Is The Right Time« / »That's Really Some Good« on Stax # 151 (1964):

Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Great Excitement of '63

In 1961, Clara Ward signed a contract to appear regularly at Las Vegas's New Frontier Hotel and in December performed for the first time at New York's Village Vanguard night club. TIME (April 28, 1961) run a story about The Grandison Singers, a female group who had switched from churches to liquor-serving clubs. »Says Mary Grandison: People in the nightclubs accept the music more than people in the churches. It's more quiet here. It's almost reverent«. In 1962, Clara Ward & her Singers started their long-lasting series of engagements at the Golden Horseshoe Saloon in California's Disneyland (see also here). Meanwhile, Della Reese and the Meditation Singers had taken to the stage of Las Vegas's Flamingo Hotel and graced the platform at New York's Copacabana (read more here). Finally, in 1963, excite- ment about »gospel going pop« peaked when New York's first »gospel night club« opened, the Sweet Chariot on Times Square.

Billboard ad, June 1, 1963
In the Sweet Chariot, a white and predominantly upper-class audience came to wag their feet to the »sanctified beat« of black »tambourine pounders« (Ren Grevatt's choice of words). »Angelic bunnies« floated between the tables as waitresses, »wearing shorty gowns with handsome non-flappable wings attached ... pleasingly female though not provocative« (Billboard, May 18, 1963, p. 12). The rest rooms were labeled »Brothers« and »Sisters«. As for the music, »[t]here is a noticeable avoidance of selections with a direct religious reference. The emphasis is strongly on the music and the beat«. A week later, on May 24, TIME followed-up with the article »Gospel Singers: Pop Up, Sweet Chariot«. It greets the »new sound« with limited enthusiasm, though, and the writer is aware of what may happen when »experienced huntsmen« and »desperate hustlers« of the music business are after a »new sound«. (The article is worth reading, and since TIME has recently closed its archive to non-members I reproduced most of the text at the end of this post; see below.)

The opening of the Sweet Chariot ignited new cash fantasies in the minds of many in the music industry ... and also appealed to a number of gospel outfits. The idea that gospel »had finally made it« was quickly transformed into the strangest of business plans, and the headline in the Billboard May 18, 1963 issue, viz. »Can Gospel Replace The Twist?«, tells it all.
BB, July 13, 1963, p. 20
In the June 8, 1963, issue Ren Grevatt (indefatigable in driving home the message of how gospel was about to become pop) authored another article entitled »And Now Gospel's Popping Into Pop Field«. Grevatt again focused on The Sweet Chariot and also mentioned Clara Ward and her success in pop night club circles in this regard. He also quotes some of the leading cash grabbers, Ewart Abner of Vee-Jay and Columbia's Dave Kapralik. The latter, closely involved in the business of The Sweet Chariot, said about the performances, »[i]t won't be the purest kind of gospel«. Which didn't matter much to him because he felt that »the relig- ious aspect of the gospel is not an important aspect. The customers are not going to gospel clubs to get religion or get the message. They just want to hear what I call happy music. They have fun without the message.« In the above-mentioned TIME article, Kapralik is quoted with the words: »It's the greatest new groove since rock 'n' roll. In a month or two, it'll be all over the charts.«
     A businessman could well state the bare facts so bluntly. The participants on the other side, viz. the various Gospel outfits, did not dare or think it right putting it this way. Gertrude and Clara Ward (who by 1963 had yielded completely to the lure of secular venues although they never, to my knowledge, appeared at The Sweet Chariot) are often reported with saying that singing spirituals in night clubs »brings the message of the Lord to all«, spreads the Gospel and could be helpful in saving lost souls, thus selling their performances in pretty unholy places as kind of a missionary work. Few did believe them.

JET magazine, August 8, 1963, p. 65
In summer '63, the estab- lished gospel scene, in unison with many church representatives, started to strike back. A clergyman saw in performing gospel music in night clubs a reckless disregard of the genre's inner essence. This essence was, for him, tied to its roots, namely the birth of sacred song in »blood and toil and sweat and tears« and thus not fit to be the stuff of mere amusement. More importantly, Mahalia Jackson had launched a general onslaught on »pop gospel« in June '63, declaring that »Pop gospel has failed because it's not the voice and sentiments of the American people.« The mixture of pop and gospel was, she went on, a contamination of the latter, and »there are some things people are afraid to mess with and pop gospel was one of those things.« In other words: »No man wants to be pulled down, and pop gospel music was like pulling God down.« (All quotes from Billboard, Sept. 28, 1963, p.1.)

On August 31, Billboard declared that »pop gospel as an important trend is dead« (p. 3). Seen in retrospect, the authoritative voice of Mahalia Jackson gave »the Great Pop Gospel Balloon« (Laurraine Goreau), for the next years at least, a mortal blow:
In 1963 when a number of companies tried to develop a pop gospel sound in New York (complete with gospeleers shouting out ditties in nightclubs) the movement failed. Mahalia Jackson had much to do with putting the fear of the Lord into those companies with her strong stand against taking gospel and watering it down. (Eliot Tiegel in Billboard, Nov. 6, 1971, p. RN-40).
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In the midst of all this excitement, Buena Vista (Disney's pop record label established in 1959) released LP # STER-3318: The Famous Ward Gospel Singers Recorded Live at Disneyland. Obviously, this was a by-product (and a prop at the same time) of the Wards' concerts at the Golden Horseshoe. However, neither Clara nor Gertrude Ward went on record here, and the whole live show is performed by The Gertrude Ward Singers. (For the different cover of the French issue see here.)
The members of the group you can hear on that LP were the following: Viola Crowley (sadly, she passed away recently in June 2011), Geraldine Jones, Clara Thomas, Vermettya Royster, Mildred Means and Malvilyn (Simpson) Statham. The singer best-known among r&b aficionados will be Vermettya Royster, a once-time member of the Ikettes and the Raelettes and still active. Most of them had recorded and performed with Clara Ward and/or her mother since 1959, but none before 1958 when the famous '50s outfit of the Ward Singers (feat. Marion Williams and others) broke up. There's only one reasonably good photograph that shows, with the unfor- tunate exception of Clara Thomas, all of the above-mentioned singers; it was re- portedly taken in 1969 (with Clara Ward and Elvis Presley in the center):
The 12 songs on this LP are mainly uptempo, with much tambourine-shakin' goin' on. All singers have leading parts in one song or the other, but most of the tunes are too fast and chorus-oriented to give the leading voice a chance to shine. However, there is Vermettya Royster's intense, 5-minute version of »Never Grow Old«, and there are two tunes showcasing the rough-edged voice of Geraldine Jones, »I'm Getting Nea- rer« and »Something's Got A Hold On Me«. It's those two you can hear below. And notwithstanding the endless discussion about gospel groups performing at secular venues I think these tunes are worth hearing. You can easily pour ridicule over the Ward Singers' engagement in Disneyland, as Anthony Heilbut, for one, has done: »... Disneyland, where the Ward Singers, the cartoons of gospel, joined the wonderful world of Mickey Mouse« (The Gospel Sound, p. 110).

But I don't think things are as easy as that. Bil Carpenter offers a much more ambivalent and balanced perspective on what the Ward Singers achieved: »They were the first to perform in Las Vegas hotels, the first to perform in amu- sement parks such as Disneyland, and they brought a flamboyant elegance to a musical form that was considered an unglamorous vestige of slavery« (Uncloudy Days, p. 429). The major part of the songs on Buena Vista LP 3318 are overtly religious, above all the con- version song »Something's Got A Hold On Me« (and which is, incidentally, closely related to Lula Collins's »What Is This«). And I believe that notwithstanding the context the message is still there and the artists aren't singing simply to amuse the crowd. At least I can't hear that, can you?

The Ward Singers feat. Geraldine Jones: »I'm Getting Nearer« / »Something's Got A Hold On Me« from the Buena Vista LP »Recorded Live At Disneyland« (1963):

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Some additional items regarding the »Disneyland experience« of the Ward Singers:

(1) From The Afro-American, July 17, 1965, page 11:

(2) From Willa Ward-Royster: How I Got Over. Clara Ward and the World-Famous Ward Singers. As told to Toni Rose, Philadelphia 1997, p. 161 f.:

»... one of the press people asked, "What do you have to say when people object to your singing in places like nightclubs and Disneyland?" Mom's [i.e. Gertrude Ward's] change of heart was clear in her answer:
I don't know if they've accepted it by now or not. They thought that when we went out into the clubs, we'd be singing blues or jazz or even rock-and-roll, but we sing the same songs in the clubs that we sing in church. It's wonderful how they accept Gospel singing, sometimes even more than people in the church. (...) I've heard worse in some churches and from the mouths of the "holy" than I've ever heard in any nightclub.«
(3) The Ward Singers were, not the least for their flamboyancy, idols for gays in the black community (and sometimes beyond), somewhat similar to opera divas who are often venerated among gays. Tellingly, there is a chapter on the Ward Singers (this time including Clara) performing at Disneyland in John Edmonds: Called, Justified, Glorified, and Gay. The fictional Memoirs Of Gospel Singer, Josephus Hezekiah Carson, Bloomington 2008, pp. 150-56. The author is overwhelmed by the »five beautifully be-gowned and be-wigged and be-dazzled ladies« that »made their grand entrance« and describes the Clara Ward Sound by the adjectives »shrill, full, force- ful, energetic, harmonious«. Sorry that I can't quote more here. Read it here (not all pages are visible at any one time!) And having done this you might as well look here.

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TIME magazine, Friday May 24, 1963: »Gospel Singers: Pop Up, Sweet Chariot« (Extracts)
Once a year or so, the popular-music business falls into a faint, and the only thing that can bring it around again is a new sound. The new sound quickly becomes every hipster's new groove and everybody imitates it until even little children no longer care to listen. Last year the twist was replaced by the bossa nova, but as things turned out, it was a case of a starving man rescuing one who was merely hungry. Business faded.
     For months now (and in the record business, months are decades), despe- rate music hustlers have been searching for the new groove. Experienced huntsmen confined their attention to Negro music, which, with the single exception of country music, has supplied them with every new idea since the blues. Last week, with appropriate fanfare, they proclaimed they had found the sound: pop gospel. Waving contracts and recording tape, Columbia Records moved into a new Manhattan nightclub called the Sweet Chariot and began packaging such devotional songs as He's All Right for the popular market. "It's the greatest new groove since rock 'n' roll," said Columbia Pop A. & R. Director David Kapralik. "In a month or two, it'll be all over the charts."
     Yeah! Since gospel music is the root of rhythm-and-blues and "soul jazz," the discovery turned out to be embarrassingly obvious—like eating the hen after stealing all the eggs. (...)
     Gospel music may have seemed a surprise a half-block from Broadway, but Pentecostal churchgoers and sinners "out in radioland" have been hearing it for years, sung with devotion by such groups as the Clara Ward Singers, the Stars of Faith and the Mighty Clouds of Joy. Recently, its spirit and style and shouts of "Yeah!" (but rarely the rest of the lyrics) have crept into popular music, but only Mahalia Jackson has been popularly successful with the pure version. A couple of years ago, Brother John Sellers and the Grandison Singers became the first to sing gospel in nightclubs. A thin flock of groups followed, some complaining bitterly that cheating preachers had driven them into it by failing to part with a livable share of the church offering.
     Wha? Gospel's move into nightclubs (where Negroes call it "ofay gospel") does not necessarily corrupt either singers or songs. But its adoption by the popular-record industry gives good reason for melancholy. To succeed with the predominantly teen-age audience, it will be hyped up and sanitized to the point of becoming grotesque. (...) Having spent so long on the back streets, gospel singers greet the establishment's new enthusiasm with a doubting, puzzled Wha? (...) But even with all the corporate delight at the new groove's financial prospects, the cheerful, sensate piety of the music had already begun to sound like its own requiem by the end of the first week of official enthusiasm. Gospel music is the last remaining unpackaged expression of Negro culture; now that it is being merchandised, where will the new grooves come from?